8 Ways Expository Preaching Changed Our Church

I was thankful to not be in the front row of class that morning. The famed old expositor leaned over his lectern with a glare. Tensions rose, and the air conditioner silently kicked on. Did the older man rise on his toes? Suddenly, with the growl of a mama bear over cubs, he roared, “Every sermon is an argument where I argue, and you must believe!” Then, as quickly as they’d lifted, the heels settled back to the gray linoleum floor. The glare behind the glasses softened. The wrinkled brow disappeared. The moment passed.  The patriarch’s grandfatherly tone returned, and he began instructing us on the 20th-century failures of experiential preaching, sentimental preaching, analogical preaching, cultural preaching, so on, and so forth.

I’ll never forget that day. Of all my years in school, that one sentence – along with the glare, guts, and ferocity – marked me for life. I’d grown up viewing preaching as pastor talking “about” the Bible. I’d attended a typical evangelical bible school and been told that good preaching was telling people “about” God. Thus, my pulpit resume came lined with quips about the Bible, a menagerie of popular theologies, and a boatload of emotional anecdotes. However, in class that day, the preaching “semi-truck” plowed over my heart –preaching wasn’t talking about God but speaking for God.

Faithful expository preaching meant that the Word of God is presented as the words of God. It sounds funny to write it that way, in tautology, but this was earth-shaking news. Every word of Scripture was pure ‘truth’ and ‘argument’ of God, flowing out upon people, forcing they either accept or reject His holy position. The light had dawned: expositional preaching was the only preaching that had any power. Faithful preaching could only be expositional preaching.

After class, I went home and began tracing through old books, writing out the family tree of historic bible expositors. I was ecstatic to learn that God didn’t speak with multiple meanings. I was humbled to learn that those who studied the grammatical, historical, and literary context of God’s Word could know precisely what God said. I was encouraged to know that faithful preaching wasn’t fancy. The goal wasn’t to be inventive or funny; the goal was to be right…God would do the rest! My studies began in earnest: What did the author write? What did the author mean? What are the primary verbs? What is the supporting syntax? How does it correlate to the remainder of God’s revealed Word?

Through tears, I learned that inerrancy demands exposition. If I believed the Bible was true (which I did!), I didn’t have a choice but to preach what it said. If I had an inerrant text, that meant God wrote it. If God wrote it, I couldn’t change it. Thus, my only option was to preach it. Exposition was the single type of preaching that brought the full text to the hearer and allowed the hearer to know the Bible. Only the expositor walked in the full assurance of God, knowing it was irrelevant what people thought, and only relevant what God thinks. People needed to hear from God. Our young church plant needed to hear from God. So, that’s what we did. And, expository preaching changed our church:

  1. Exposition Showcased the Authority of God. When we began to teach God’s Word in a verse-by-verse manner, people came to realize who was really in charge. John Piper well describes the danger of non-exposition, “The entertainment-oriented preacher seems to be at ease talking about many things not drawn out of the Bible. In his message, he seems to enjoy talking about other things more than what the Bible teaches. On the other hand, the Bible oriented preacher says, ‘I am God’s representative sent to God’s people to deliver a message from God.’ He feels the weight and the joy of his trust.”[1] As long as we are circling God’s Word, preaching the latest news clippings, hijacking from online sources, or pushing sentimental self-help fixes, people know (consciously and subconsciously!) that we somehow view ourselves as the authority (Ps. 19:7-9). However, preaching God’s Word in God’s way proves once and for all who is sovereign King.
  2. Exposition Spiritually Deepened Praise and Worship. People who know the Word know to worship. Instead of continuing our emotionally stimulating Sunday morning experiences, we worked to ground our church in the Word, emphasizing the depths of truth, instead of the shallows of emotionalism. In his short manual Why Johnny Can’t Preach, T. David Gordon cajoled the plight of evangelical pulpits, “Even when one can discern a unified point in a sermon, it’s rarely a point worth making, and certainly not worth making in a Christian pulpit during a service of worship.”[2] Pastors must be preachers, not entertainers. There must be a depth of truth that leads to the extent of praise. Expositors understand they are not The Entertainer, but the Worship Leader, informing people of truth that will drive their devotion. Exposition slowly turns the church from being a place where consumers our king to a place where Christ is King.
  3. Exposition Signaled the Lordship of Christ. Many modern preachers have returned to slick titles (e.g., Bishop, Pastrix, Lead) to signal their power over a church. In our early days, we tried all the titles, all the tactics, and all the taglines. However, expositors know that Jesus is the Head of the Church (Eph. 1:17). There are only two ways to lead a church – revelation or manipulation – manipulation works through channels of fear, money, popularity, curt maxims, or supposed signs and wonders. Churches built on forms of manipulation elevate the ‘holy men’ lauded, applauded, self-focused, and money-hungry. Not expositors — expositors have elected revelation as the source of church authority. Scripture, not influence, is the rule of faith and practice for their church, and the pastor is merely the facilitator of truth for the Great Shepherd.
  4. Exposition Synced Saints With Their Heritage. We found that modern gimmick preaching based on relevance, trends, and viral videos, didn’t connect Christians with their hallowed halls of Christian history. [Often, it disdains the past!] And, every time one of my “hip” trendy pastor friends flamed out due to finances or immorality, the congregation he’d jumpstarted in some strip mall or school gymnasium was left orphaned and without a family tree or denomination to rescue. Within days, his jaded people would disappear, and the church building sold to a condo developer. Conversely, expositors ground their people in the ancestry of historic Christianity, the progeny of patristics, reformers, and redemptive history. What Christian isn’t encouraged to find hundreds of generations have held their theology?
  5. Exposition Sanctified Saints by the Holy Spirit. We had to fire the entire worship team. Early on in our ministry, it became clear that many of our leaders and their spouses weren’t regenerate. There’d been professions of faith, but no possession of faith and the nasty fruit proved the reprobate root. Expositors know the Holy Spirit uses the Word, so only proper exposition facilitates the work of the Word to save and sanctify (Jn. 17:17). Jonathan Edwards famously called this spiritual surgery, “(The preacher) has put his patient to great pain, but goes on to thrust his lance in further, till he comes to the core of the wound. Such a compassionate physician, who as soon as his patient began to flinch, should withdraw his hand…would be one that would heal the hurt slightly, crying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”[3] Edwards’ point is clear; expositors keep driving the scalpel until there’s complete healing! Those who communicate around the Word (e.g., Joel Osteen, Judah Smith, Bill Johnson, Steven Furtick) are in open rebellion against God. Luther reacted against the Catholic Church because it didn’t speak for God. It’s been well said, “True ministers are brokers of one book.” By not expositing the Word, we undermine God and His heart for sanctification, because we neglect the very tool the Spirit promised to use.
  6. Exposition Submerged Pastors in Sanctifying Grace. In the early days when I borrowed sermons or composed anecdotal talks, filled with fad illustrations, and light stories, I (the supposed pastor) wasn’t being exposed to the sanctifying Scriptures. I wasn’t drinking of God. However, expositors know that weekly study becomes the harbinger of God’s sanctifying grace – He touches His man in the trenches of exegetical “spade” work – When preaching verse-by-verse, searching out God’s proposition, connecting doctrines of Scripture, the expositor will naturally find himself at God’s mercy. Have we not all begged God for illumination? Do we not arrive at a point where the pen and prayer flow almost simultaneously? A mentor, Dr. Steven Lawson, once told us, “Too many men cry out for more giftedness but feign the quest for more godliness. To write like Calvin, you must become Calvin.”
  7. Exposition Simplified the Tough Truths. When we were an entertainment-oriented church, we rarely touched so-called “tough” truths. As with much of evangelicalism, we were nervous the “tough” facts might scare people. But, expositors know that all truth, regardless of popularity, comes from God. Thus, only an expositor can preach every truth with equal vigor, knowing the soul-battle is between the listener and God, not the listener and the preacher. Alec Motyer writes, “Of the ninety-seven verbs used in the N.T. for communicating God’s truth – at least fifty-six are declarative – verbs like kyrusso, to ‘herald, proclaim’ or didasko, ‘to teach,’ even laleo, ‘to speak, chat.’ Our primary task is to make the truth plain!”[4] To this end, Paul encourages, “We have the mind of Christ…” (1 Cor. 2:16) How do we speak the mind of Christ? Preach the Word! How do we respond to questions? Preach the Word! It is alarming how many modern preachers dance around cultural issues like homosexuality. All they need to say, no matter the subject or audience, is, “The Word of God says…” Preaching by nature will offend. However, we are not heralds of self…we are heralds of the King. A holy God demands sinners repent and believe. If they do not, they will face judgment. That’s God’s message, not ours. Expositors don’t pull punches. Expositors know that if we don’t declare the things that offend the sinful, then we forfeit the right to report grace that makes cheerful.[5]
  8. Exposition Satisfied People in the Glory of God. For years my preaching was typical evangelical fluff centered on “you” instead of God. Expositors know “you” preaching doesn’t help anyone. Expositors know that when preaching stops being about the pain, struggles, platitudes, and depressions, and starts being about God’s holiness, providence, self-existence, omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, faithfulness, etc., they have a hope beyond the grave (e.g., 1 Cor. 10:31; 2 Cor. 5:1). Topical entertainment preaching is a band-aid that won’t cure. Jeremiah called this “superficial wound treatment.” People leave church pumped for an hour then can’t recall one truth in their hours of distress. Expositors don’t let their church slap on a band-aid of analogy, intuition, quotes, maxims, and humor, for their death-wound! Expositors want their people dependent on God’s revealed truth, so all their thinking is Christ-centered. Expositors know life will eventually imitate theology. People will live out their beliefs. People don’t live on emotion, but what is embedded below emotion. The fewer convictions a church has, the more susceptible it is to temptation. A sheep unfed has no strength to stand.

F.W. Boreham once shared a story depicting the passion of Scottish preacher Robert Murray McCheyne:

Years after McCheyne’s passing, a young man visited the famous minister’s church. Approaching the associate minister, he questioned, “Where did McCheyne get his preaching power?” The associate took the youthful inquirer into the vestry and asked him to open his Bible and sit in the chair used by the great preacher.

“Now put your elbows on the table,” he said. “Now, put your face in your hands.” The visitor obeyed. “Now let the tears fall. That was the way Mr. McCheyne used to do it!”

The man then led the young minister to the pulpit and gave a fresh series of instructions. “Put your elbows down. Now, put your face in your hands.” The young man did as he was told. “Now let the tears fall again. That was the way Mr. McCheyne used to do it!”[6]

This is the way to do it. An expositor is moved over his Bible in the study then stands moved over people in the pulpit. Expository preaching changes a church.

Anthony G. Wood is the pastor-teacher of Mission Bible Church in Tustin, California and has been leading the church since planting it in 2011. He is the co-author of Defining Deception, and is currently completing his doctorate at The Master’s Seminary. Anthony and his wife, Breanne, have three children.

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[1] John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2015), 124.

[2] T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Preach (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2009), 69.

[3] Jonathan Edward, Some Thoughts Concerning the Revival, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 4, ed. C.C. Goen (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972) 390-91.

[4] Alec Motyer, Preaching: Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching, (Fearn: Christian Focus, 2013), 103

[5] For an insightful explanation of ‘quiet confidence’ in preaching, see John Stott, Between Two Worlds (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 35-36.

[6] See F.W. Boreham, A Late Lark Singing (London: Epworth Press, 1945), 66.

 

The True and Better Judas Iscariot

It happens every once and a while. A big-name “sinner” claims he or she has been wrong.

On hearing such a claim, some scoff: “Ha! Impossible!” Conversely, others start preparing the victory parade and inviting all to come celebrate—the sinner has repented!

Each side makes a valid point. Yes, we should be cautious before simply believing everything we hear. And only God can bring change that bears lasting fruit. We should be ready to celebrate the return of a prodigal heart, believe the best about others, and guard our hearts from needless cynicism.

But how do we know the difference between mere remorse and full-blown repentance?

To this question, the Bible speaks—loudly. And in the end, it causes us to ask one more.

Compelling Story

There once lived a man who was a horrific sinner. He was an expert swindler. Money was his god. His religion was gain.

There was another man, a different man. He was the religious sort, playing the role of treasurer for a non-profit, if you will. He looked trustworthy, though he loved money too—for spiritual reasons, of course. He followed Jesus. He had witnessed mighty works and compassionate deeds. And one day this man, Judas, saw true repentance firsthand.

As he followed Jesus through Jericho, they suddenly stopped because Jesus saw a man sitting up in a sycamore tree. Jesus called the man to come down and host him for a meal.

The man descended the tree and, as he drew closer, the crowd gasped. It was the horrific sinner himself! Here was the swindler, the scammer, the greed monger. Zacchaeus. Just his name made the blood boil. If only Jesus had known how many old ladies had lost their last dollar to this man’s tricks (Luke 19:5–7).

The crowd pressed in, peering through the doorway and the windows in hopes of seeing Jesus put Zacchaeus in his place. Perhaps some even thought Zacchaeus set up the whole encounter himself, to polish his image in the public eye. That’s it! This was nothing more than a publicity stunt to manufacture grace after pilfering the community with salacious greed. Here it comes, they think. Let him have it, Jesus!

But instead of Jesus, it was the swindler who spoke:

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:8–10)

The onlookers could hardly believe their ears. From greedy fraud to godly follower? From exploiting the poor to paying them back?

It was more than they could take. Some probably erupted into tears of joy because they had been wounded for years by Zacchaeus’s gimmicks. His penitent action was a healing balm to their anxious souls. Others embraced those around them in relief that the falsehood was finished. One less wolf to threaten the sheep. Still others, though, refused to accept this as true repentance.

As days turned to weeks, and weeks to months and years, Zacchaeus made good on his promises and continued in his newfound faith. His repentance was real, his eternal peace secure.

Lesson in the Aftermath

Back at the table that day, I imagine Judas looking on somewhat indifferently. He doesn’t seem to know that he would become the “son of perdition” (John 17:12) and that Satan would enter him during history’s most heinous betrayal (Luke 22:3; John 13:2).

But I can also see Judas looking on somewhat nervously—perhaps even annoyed with conviction. I can imagine him clutching the money bag just a little bit tighter, pondering whether anyone could tell that his own actions were no different from Zacchaeus’s—though he was much better at hiding them.

In his Gospel account, the apostle John shows his readers what was in Judas’s heart. During Mary’s beautiful display of worship, she had used expensive perfume and her own hair to wash the feet of Jesus (John 12:3). Judas, protesting that such an act was a waste of money, showed his true colors. John points out that Judas “was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:6).

Later, overridden with guilt after betraying Jesus unto death, Judas was remorseful but not repentant. He tried to undo what he had done by throwing the dirty money back at the feet of his shady business partners (Matt. 27:4–5). It was blood money, dripping pure and red from the righteous Lamb himself. Even still, that same blood could’ve covered his sin—if he would truly have repented and turned to Christ. Surely, Judas remembered what repentance looked like. Repentance is self-exposure, the heart laid bare, the mind determined to head in a new direction! Surely he knew that all it would take to make things right was running to Christ in confession. Instead, he hid in the shadow of shame. Indeed, Judas’s effort was nothing more than a feeble attempt to hang fruit on a dead tree. But only genuine repentance produces genuine fruit (Matt. 3:8). After all he had seen firsthand, Judas undoubtedly knew that mere remorse couldn’t account for his sin against God.

Through the lives of both Zacchaeus and Judas, the Bible speaks with unwavering clarity. Zacchaeus was truly repentant, showing faith through his confession and open accountability. Judas was merely remorseful, remaining in the shadows of guilt because he’d betrayed the Son of God.

Judas knew remorse would not do. Why, Judas, did you not repent?

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This article was originally published at The Gospel Coalition on October 17th, 2019. 

Faithful Shepherds in a Frantic Culture

If you love the church, you must believe that God’s people deserve men who will be faithful shepherds in the midst of a frantic culture. No matter what era you peruse throughout history, faithful shepherds are always in demand. But is every man claiming “compulsion to lead the church” a man that should be trusted? We must ask questions. Does he have the heart of a shepherd? The zeal of a warrior? The humility of a servant? The perspective of His Master? No matter his insistent passion, does he measure up when the grid of Scripture is laid atop his life?

There are plenty of ways that people approach pastoral ministry today. Some are showmen who enter ministry hoping for a cushy job and a flexible schedule. They’re the type who show up once a week collect a paycheck. Others think the pastor is a CEO, sitting in a big office tapping golf balls into a glass while paying others to do what he won’t. Mix in some innovation, a few big events, a motivational speech on Sunday, and he’s got himself a career! Still, others believe that pastoral ministry is more of a fraternity or locker room full of like-minded friends. They see the church as being more about their loyalty to a denomination and venerated leaders. They wear the team colors. They defend each other no matter what but are confused about what it means to stand firm in the truth. They’re “of Apollos” and “of Paul” so they’re more content to preserve unity even it means tolerating errors. Of course, we mustn’t forget the all-inclusive ideology of today’s liberal mob. These, who insist that the “old book” needs their modern-day editorial brush, see homosexuality, gender, and various imperatives as more relative than restrictive. Good PR matters more than truth.

The culture today is a frantic one. Many in the professing church are spinning in confusion. Therefore, the last thing we need are any more thin-skinned shepherds looking for an easy paycheck and notoriety. We need men with guts who wield the staff and put in the work it takes to care for God’s people. Men willing to take God’s word seriously when it comes to being shepherds! The kind of men who heed 1 Peter 5:1-4.

A Pivotal Text for Every Pastor

When Peter wrote to Christians throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, myriad of Christians were scattered, being persecuted, in need of faithful shepherds who would guide and guard them. Nero had set Rome ablaze and needed a scapegoat so who better to blame than a group of narrow-minded monotheists who were loyal to Jesus Christ? They weren’t popular to begin with but now everything turned against Christians. Persecution soared, the Church was under assault, and the sheep belonging to Christ were in desperate need of elders who would shepherd them through the storms of life they faced.

Peter’s letters are pivotal for Christians and 1 Peter 5:1-4 is especially so, for pastors and elders. The man desirous of being a faithful shepherd, and the church seeking the service of faithful shepherds do well to let Peter’s Spirit-inspired words pierce their heart. If the command is to “shepherd the flock among you,” then what does that look like?

Based on Peter’s words, here are six observations of a faithful shepherd in a frantic culture:

1.     A shepherd will suffer

Inferred by the context, and explicitly stated about Christians throughout the New Testament, if sheep are going to suffer then most certainly their shepherds will. Ultimately, Christ the Great Shepherd did and all who follow Him will. Nowhere are we promised an easy life if we are faithful to the gospel and faithful to calling of a shepherd. Jesus was adamant that this world will hate His disciples and it hated Him first (John 15:18). Paul exhorted Timothy, “Join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8), “suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2:3), and “indeed all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (3:12).

2.     A shepherd is aware

In 1 Peter 5:2b he writes, “…exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God.” The word “episkopeo” comes from epi and skopeo meaning “upon” and “mark.” This is a shepherd with his eyes wide open. He’s aware. You could say he pays attention to detail. A shepherd is not aloof of the state of his flock, he is not a weekend warrior simply showing up to preach and then disappearing all week. A shepherd is diligent, keeps his eye on the ball, exercising close attention to the details and daily affairs of those entrusted to his care. He knows them and thus can pray for them and preach to them in a way that reaches their hearts.

In sports a coach will often tell the players, “The difference between winning and losing is often about paying attention to details.” The same can be said about ministry, except that in sports wins and losses are at stake. In ministry, heaven and hell are on the line.

And how does he pay exercise this awareness and oversight? Not with an eye rolling compulsory demeanor. Not with a lazy heart or excuses, but “voluntarily.” Lexical definitions describe this word as “of one’s own accord.” Now apply that and you get a shepherd who takes initiative. Nobody should trigger a shepherd. He lives triggered! He takes initiative because his heart is held captive to the word of God, and he desires the best for the people of God, because he knows this is the will of God!

3.     A shepherd is eager

Furthermore, Peter writes that an elder ought to shepherd “not for sordid gain, but with eagerness” (1 Peter 5:2c). Coming off the heels of the previous statement about a voluntary heart, Peter pushes the point again and adds that shepherds should be the exact opposite of greedy false teachers in that they are not serving for filthy lucre. You can hear echoes of 2 Peter 2:3 here where Peter would late describe false teachers as exploiting people in their greed. This is a sure mark of a false teacher. But a faithful shepherd? Eager whether or not people recognize all you’ve done, sing your praises, or take care of you. For little or no money, small crowds, no live stream, and old dingy buildings. If that’s what God calls you to are you still eager? Your leadership will be contagious for better or worse. If you’re not eager, expect no one else to be.

4.     A shepherd is an example

1 Peter 5:3 exhorts, “…nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. Kleros is “a share or portion given.” This is your part of pie. Tupos is “a statue or something to be resembled.” Literally, shepherding is not “do what I say” it’s “do as I do.” If you take Peter seriously, you’d agree that shepherding is not dominance, it’s devotion. It starts in your own life and pours over into theirs. This begs another question of every shepherd or aspiring shepherd: Is your life a statue worth resembling? If the men loved their wives like you love yours what kind of marriage would they have? If they parented like you how would their kids turn out? If they talked to their colleagues like you talk to yours? If their morning routine was like yours? Are you combative or peaceful? Petty or mature? Are you indecisive or unwavering? It gets convicting doesn’t it? An elder’s greatest sermon doesn’t happen in a pulpit. His greatest sermon is his life.

5.     A shepherd is accountable

One day, Christ the Chief Shepherd will return and that’s who every shepherd answers to (1 Peter 5:4a). If you’re an elder, you don’t enact any will upon the Church, but God’s. The Church is not yours. It’s His. You’re not the Head pastor, He is. One day you will stand — more likely, bow — before His judgment seat and give an account for your deeds in the body. Our chief concern must be for what the Chief Shepherd wants!

We’ve all watched as in the past few years as autocratic and domineering men have fallen publically and brought reproach on Christ and the Church. Their model was built on abuse of power and they lost sight of Whom they were accountable to. We don’t glory in this as those who sneer, “Ha! I saw that one coming…” We learn from this and humbly remind ourselves with fear and trembling that our calling is the highest there is on earth and thus our judgment will be the greatest of all those in the Church. We must live accountable now knowing we will be accountable then.

6.     A shepherd is rewarded

Though judgment is imminent for all, so are rewards for faithfulness. 1 Peter 5:4b culminates with these joyous words for those who’ve run the race well: “you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”

The highest praise of man should be our lowest concern. We don’t serve with eagerness because of what we get now but what awaits us in the future. This is fitting for Peter’s theme throughout his letter which points to an eternal focus. If you’ve lived 1 Peter 5:1-3, you get the joy of experiencing of verse 4. This is the motivation of a faithful shepherd. This is what is needed in the midst of a frantic culture.

If you ask me, the greatest moment of embarrassment for any shepherd would be to have spent their earthly ministry climbing some the ladder to a destination that doesn’t exist. What do I mean? There’s this idea that if you just publish a book, or speak at a conference, or pastor a larger church that you will have “arrived” somewhere. There are pastors who always seem to be trying to arrive “there.” Let me tell you, there is no “there” there. You can speak at conferences, write books, rub elbows with your favorite speakers and guess what? All that will ever matter, and the only “there” you need to focus on is the day you stand before Christ and answer for your work here on earth.

The King’s approval awaits, brothers. But there is a flock to be served first. In the midst of today’s frantic culture, do it well.

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*This article is derived from a sermon by Costi Hinn entitled, “Faithful Shepherds in a Frantic Culture” (1 Peter 5:1-4). This message was preached at The Master’s Seminary in Sun Valley, CA. Watch below:

Your Prosperity Is Too Small

There was a rich young ruler who once had the opportunity to sit face-to-face with God. Like a child humbly seated at the feet of his father, this ruler had a question and knew where to go for the answer. Surely God Himself could provide an adequate solution to his longing soul. In an instant, a weighty inquiry burst forth. He asked, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” On the outside, this rich ruler appeared to be a cut above everyone else. He was wealthy, powerful, and seemed to be a model of morality. Eternal security was all but guaranteed, right? But there, concerning the state of the ruler’s soul, Jesus brought the sobering reality of heaven down to earth.

Jesus said, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me” (Luke 18:22). The ruler’s response? “But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. And Jesus looked him and said, ‘How difficult it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!’” (Luke 18:24).

Wealth is not a sin, but chasing it can cloud even the sharpest of minds. That is why in God’s economy, it is not the balance in your bank account that matters; it is the affections of your heart. God is not partial to those who are rich with pride and presumption; it is the poor in spirit that move Him.

This ancient temptation still rears its head today. There is not a more blinding, arrogant, and myopically presumptuous belief system than the “prosperity gospel.” While it promises a long list of earthly treasures to those who will succumb to its lusts, it leaves its victims spiritually bankrupt. Like the rich young ruler, the prosperity gospel appears big and bold on the outside, but when compared to the true gospel, its bleak return on investment is suddenly revealed. Those who adhere to the prosperity gospel possess a view on prosperity that is too small.

A Vicious Cycle

The wake of devastation the prosperity gospel leaves behind stems from selling a version of Jesus that overpromises and underdelivers. Instead of rightfully putting their primary emphasis on lavish spiritual blessings unlocked in Christ (Eph. 1:3-12), prosperity preachers twist Scripture to put the emphasis on temporary pleasure, promising that Jesus is a Heavenly Banker who wants everyone to be healthy and wealthy on earth. According to the prosperity gospel, Christ’s goal is your comfort. Sadly, there is no comfort to be found. Many people who make donations in exchange for the “American Dream” only end up broke. They are told to sow a seed of faith into the fertile soil of a prosperity preacher’s ministry on the grounds that it will produce a hundredfold return! The painful reality is the only people getting rich are the prosperity preachers themselves. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Is this the picture of the gospel that we see in the Bible?

There Will Be Suffering

When a prosperity preacher and a faithful preacher stand in front of Christ on Judgment Day, two very different outcomes will occur. For these two preachers, suffering will be inevitable. For the faithful preacher, he would have likely suffered on earth and will be rejoicing as Christ welcomes him into the eternal rewards and riches of heaven! In stark contrast, the prosperity preacher will have lived his best life on earth—free of suffering and peril. Yet, there in front of Christ’s throne, his knee will bow and his tongue will confess Jesus as Lord, then he will enter into eternal suffering.

Each of these preachers will suffer. When they suffer and for how long they will suffer depends on their faithfulness to the gospel here on earth. Temporal suffering on earth is but a molecular moment in comparison to infinite ages of heavenly glory. For those who trample the gospel in seeking temporal gain, the suffering that awaits them in eternity is insurmountably greater than all the royal comforts of earth combined.

Infinite Promises and Eternal Glory

The Bible repeatedly turns our perspective upward into the vast expanse of eternity. The prosperity gospel calls us into a downward spiral that leads to a desolate perspective. Jesus promised that treasure in heaven could not be destroyed (Matt. 6:19-20). Jesus promised suffering saints eternal crowns and glory in His kingdom (Rev. 2:9-10; 3:10-12). Jesus promised that anyone who sacrificed something for His sake would receive many times as much and inherit eternal life (Matt. 19:29).

In Christ’s kingdom, the first shall be last and the last shall be first (Matt. 19:30). To the poor in spirit belongs the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:3). The infinite promise of Christ is that in this world we will have trouble (John 16:33), but He has overcome it and prepares a place for us that is beyond anything the prosperity gospel can deliver (John 14:12). When suffering comes upon us, we can find comfort in the arms of the Prince of Peace (Phil. 4:6-9). Blessings, joy, riches, and comfort are now and will always be found in Christ — but not always in the ways we imagine. These treasures will not always be realized on earth, but for those who choose Christ no matter the cost, these things will be enjoyed for all eternity in heaven.

When I was living the dream as a prosperity gospel benefactor, my confidence soared. I was a “big success.” It was only when Christ opened my eyes to the one true gospel that I was set free from the chains that held my soul. It was then that I realized how bankrupt I truly was. Compared to the eternal riches found in Jesus Christ, the biggest earthy promises of the prosperity gospel will forever be too small.

***This article was originally featured in the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s inaugural issue of “Permanent Things: The Annual Journal From The Center for Public Theology.” The entire issue can be downloaded for free.

What to Expect from My “Prosperity Gospel” Book

This July Zondervan will release my next book entitled, God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel: How Truth Overwhelms a Life Built on Lies. One of the great joys throughout this project has been the repeated effort by the team at “Z” in focusing on getting the gospel to people who need it. Especially encouraging is the joint goal of everyone involved to give more than we take.

It has been a rewarding process learning how to publish a book and while publishing a book costs money and there is compensatory work involved on both the writing and marketing side, there is a collective conviction that our mandate to honor Christ through this book must transcend any pressure to “sell books.” I am eager to see this book used as a tool for God’s glory – not for sordid gain. Here is a sobering thought: In a rat-race effort to sell books, it’s easy to become the very dragon that we’re attempting to slay.

With plans taking shape for the next 6 months, I wanted to share some personal thoughts about the marketing plan and be transparent about how I’m going to approach things when it comes to money and royalties. Here is what you can expect from a book that seeks to charge the prosperity gospel with the grit of a bull while displaying the grace becoming of servants of Christ.

A prosperity gospel book should give more than it takes. Get ready for big giveaways.

For this project, the plan is to invest back into the people who are buying the book in some big ways. In just the first month since pre-orders began, 100 books were donated to The Central Africa Baptist College and Seminary to support pastors who are training for ministry. Africa is one of the most plagued countries in the world when it comes to prosperity theology. Plans are in place to give away thousands of dollars in books in resources to those who pre-order in the coming months as well as pastors around the world. During February, every pre-order will be entered to win the entire set of MacArthur New Testament Commentaries (34 Volumes). All subsequent months will have brand new book bundles for people to win. Then, during the 9 days of the release month (July), we’ll give away another MacArthur set to someone who pre-ordered!

This book is likely to upheave people’s bad theology. We need to help them recover long-term.

Books like this one can come off like a tornado. The clouds move in, the rain and hail pour out, the thunder roars, lightning cracks, and then all that seems to be left is upheaval. Instead of leaving a wake of destruction, this book is designed to help people with the theological rebuilding process. After the initial wrecking ball tears down exploitive and abusive theology, there will be a hopeful and upward trajectory. There will be plenty of resources continually offered on social media and at www.forthegospel.org. In addition, I was part of launching Reformanda, a teaching ministry, with six other faithful men and there is plenty of resources for people there as well. Finally, the book contains numerous recommended resources for those who will need an ongoing roadmap. The goal of this book is to destroy “speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5) and shed the light of truth into dark places.

Royalties aren’t for my big house. They’ll be used to build God’s kingdom.

Imagine the irony of me writing a book on the prosperity gospel only to make a ton of money off of royalties so I can live like a king. That’s not only shameful considering my background; that’s hardly what God’s purposes are in blessing a project like this. In an effort to operate with transparency and integrity, allow me to state the obvious: A book speaking against the prosperity gospel technically makes money “off of” the prosperity gospel. As such, it is the conviction of both my wife and me that royalties* from this book be used for theological education and providing resources to pastors and people who have been exploited by the prosperity gospel. Prayerfully, God will use this project as one that gives more than it ever takes. May it be blessed to be a blessing.

As the next few months unfold, you can both support this project and benefit from it in three simple ways:

  1. Scroll down and subscribe to this blog for content directly to your inbox
  2. Pre-order the book and email your order confirmation to contact@forthegospel.org to be entered into drawings for theological resources. *Must be subscribed to the blog
  3. Pray that God uses this book to rescue people being exploited by prosperity theology.

Soli Deo Gloria

*Due to legalities associated with royalties, taxes, and fees, I cannot say “100% of royalities” in this statement.

3 Takeaways from India 2019

From January 25th – February 3rd I and a brother from our church embarked on a 34-hour journey deep into the heart of India. While it’s not necessary to share our exact location, I can share that we were in the southern half of India. Our objective on this trip was not to convert Hindus, but rather, to strengthen and encourage local pastors who are facing monumental challenges in ministry.

The trip was prompted by a request from our local partner and was spurred on by a zeal to see pastors trained and supported in a region with little opportunities for such training.

Over the course of nine days, we came to learn about local threats to the gospel directly from national pastors and leaders and spent time discussing strategies for the years ahead. We also provided training seminars during the day and expositional sermons at night. In total, I had the privilege of preaching and teaching about a dozen times (sometimes cramming two sermons into 90 straight minutes of preaching at the request of our hosts). We ministered everywhere from a small village church to a crowd of 700+ pastors from all around southern India.

It’s impossible to put into words all the incredible experiences that we had on the trip but I’d be doing my dear brothers from India a great disservice if I didn’t at least boil things down to a few key takeaways. I’m not saying I have the solutions to the challenges contained in some of these takeaways, but it still seemed noteworthy to point them out.

The Prosperity Gospel is the #1 Issue The Global Church is Facing Within Its Own Ranks
One afternoon we sat with approximately 15 pastors for a time of fellowship and discussion. What I came to learn was shocking. Previously, I understood that the prosperity gospel was somewhat of an issue in India. After all, 15 years ago I was in Mumbai for a massive crusade with the “Hinn family entourage” and millions of people attended our crusades where we promised health, wealth, healing, and salvation to the desperate crowd. But this trip was different. As the pastors shared their hearts, I was told that the entire region is seeing a wave of compromise within the church. One pastor confessed that he has “started preaching prosperity theology” because people will leave his church if he doesn’t. Another pastor shared that even in areas where the church appears to be thriving, those churches are not healthy — they preach the prosperity gospel. As men opened up in honesty, the clarion call within the room was that faithfulness was still our mandate.

While religions outside of Christianity (like Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism) still result in great persecution against Christians, nothing seems to be assaulting the church from within like the prosperity gospel and other branches of charismatic extremism.

When you analyze the global church on a macro level; adding in stats from South America, Africa, and even China (yes, China!), the prosperity gospel (and associated movements) is the #1 issue we’re facing. Sound doctrine is in short supply. There is a famine in our land.

Our Brothers and Sisters Are Hungry for More Access to Theological Training
Over and over again the pastors and leaders asked, can you please help us get more resources in our own language and help us access training for ministry? Out of the approximately 1000 pastors I came across, very few had received any formal theological training though they were desperate for it. It’s not as though they could apply for financial aid and simply go to seminary. In the smaller group of pastors that I interacted with, 6 had been to seminary, 5 had finished. Of those 5, at least 3 had to leave the country to acquire their training. While I understand that these numbers cannot accurately represent the entire global picture, they do serve as a wake-up call for the need to train and deploy leaders internationally. People are hungry for theological training so they can be more effective in local ministry.

At one point a pastor shared with me that India has its very own version of “Benny Hinn” and “Joel Osteen.” These local national imitators put on the same ruse that false teachers do in America. I immediately thought, where are the local national theologians who can push back on this threat? Why is it that there are influential false teachers assaulting the church but these local pastors are hard-pressed to find a commentary set or apologetics resource in their own language in order to study and answer the questions of their congregation? I was struck with the conviction that we must be intentional about training nationals to be warriors in their own nation. Furthermore, it seems there are still many places around the world that are not getting the translation support they need to contend for the faith.

How amazing would it be to see countries explode with their own seminaries and their own theologians so that more locals can move more quickly into training opportunities and be unleashed on the local church when ready? It’s hard enough to minister in places around the world where persecution is intense. Without access to theological resources, many leaders are like unarmed soldiers in the middle of a war zone. If we can help them get started, we must.

Jesus is Building His Church and the Gates of Hades Cannot Prevail Against It
Even in the darkest corners of the earth, Christ’s light cannot be stopped. India is no exception. One church we visited was located in a village that had been completely Hindu one generation prior. All efforts to evangelize people there had borne no fruit. Then, a family planted a church of 4 people in the village and tried once more. The result? An explosion of conversions and some 80 members now growing in their faith. The locals have threatened them and tried to eradicate their church, but Christ continues to increase their number. One pastor shared how his church started in his living room, then spilled outside his home, only to lead them to erect a church building to meet the growing need for space. Now, 400 members gather each week to hear the preaching of the word, share a meal, and sing for the glory of God together. Without question, in the midst of a spiritual battle between darkness and light, our unstoppable conquering King is building His church.

As generation after generation seeks to be faithful to the Great Commission, God will use them to see great things unfold. It’s easy to get lost in the noise that can is American evangelicalism. Personally, being reminded of what our family in Christ is facing around the world puts many things into perspective. Suddenly, stone throwing over social justice and arguing over politics seems less important. It’s amazing what nine days, less Wi-Fi, and some good old-fashioned Indian food will do. Change of pace and change of place really do equal a change in perspective.

Here’s to more living out the Commission we’ve been called to. Life is short. Let’s stay busy.

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20)

 

A High View of God’s Glory

The fullness of the Christian life and all that it entails can never be experienced without the jaw-dropping moment in which God’s glory becomes everything to a believer. If you’ve not had such a moment, much is in store for you to experience. It is the most humbling moment of your existence to find that so little is actually about you and that your purpose is found in living for His glory. Many Christians have some idea of God but the concept of His glory eludes them as they live day after day caught somewhere between a love for God and a self-centered belief that their life belongs to them.

People ask time and time again, “What exactly is God’s glory? What does it mean that my life’s purpose is for His glory?” The truth is, God’s glory is so vast that no single chapter, no single book, and no grandest canyon could ever contain all that He is. But there, in the impossible vastness of who God is we find a definition of God’s glory: It is every aspect and attribute of God.

He is from everlasting to everlasting. Where the best of humanity ends, God has barely begun. While we as humans are prone to believing how necessary we are, God is, in fact, no better with us and no worse off without us. He is the crown jewel of His own glorious crown. He is glory defined. A life of purpose for humanity is only found when the purpose becomes Him. God exists for Himself. We exist for His glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Reflect on your own life for a moment. Has the immeasurable value of God’s glory settled on your soul? Have you been shaken to your core by the finitude of your own power and authority? Are you acutely aware that every morning you’re allowed to wake up is pure mercy from the One who gives permission to your heart to pump the oxygen-rich blood your body needs to breathe just once more?

The truth is, every Christian loses sight of the glory of God from time to time and needs a moment of renewal; devoting the heart and its affections to Him once again. He is to be the object of our affections and the center of our world. Three things renew our commitment to living for — and striving to understand — His glory.

Awestruck by His Character

A high view of God’s glory is charged through being awestruck by His character. God’s revealed attributes are the conduit; stirring our affection for Him. We live more fully for God’s glory when we know exactly who He is!

Jonathan Edwards modeled the joy we find in seeking who God is when he wrote, “The greatest moments of my life have not been those that have concerned my own salvation, but those when I have been carried into communion with God and beheld His beauty and desired His glory…I rejoice and yearn to be emptied and annihilated of self in order that I might be filled with the glory of God and Christ alone.”[1]

His attributes are endless and yet He’s chosen to reveal to us what we need to thrive in relation to Him and relationship with Him. To be awestruck by His character is to know His attributes which include:

  • His Eternality (Genesis 1:1)
  • His Sovereignty (Psalms 115:3)
  • His Infinite Wisdom (Romans 11:33)
  • His Goodness (Psalms 34:8)
  • His Mercy (Ephesians 2:4-5)
  • His Justice (Romans 2:5)
  • His Grace (Ephesians 2:8-9)
  • His Love (1 John 4:8)
  • His Holiness (Isaiah 6:3)

Under the umbrella of every one of those characteristics the endless nature of God’s nature is proven. What’s more? God is perfect in His expression of those attributes. In other words, whatever He does, and however He does it, it is perfect — no matter how we might feel on this side of heaven.

Aware of Your Own Corruption

Few things elevate your view of God’s glory better than a proper view of self. Biblically speaking, we are corrupted and God knows He is the best thing thing we have going for us. Romans 3:23 declares, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Plainly, you will never measure up! That’s step one in becoming aware of your corruption. Quoting the Psalmist, Paul writes, “There is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). We are utter failures at achieving anything but sin, and we’re complete disasters at being “good enough” for God. Now before you crawl into a dark corner of hopelessness and shame, welcome that reality into your mind and embrace the weight it places on your heart. You need to become O.K. with admitting what you see in the spiritual mirror of your life if you want to live for God’s glory. We are by nature, “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). The bad news must come out if you’re going to celebrate the good news! God’s glory becomes everything when your self-righteous confidence becomes nothing.

Be able to say like Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25a). With nowhere to turn for the solution to our corruption, we have no choice but to fall on our knees as beggars before the throne of our merciful and glorious God. We’re never more ready to come to grips with the glory of God than from this helpless state.

Adoring Jesus Christ

The Bible makes it abundantly clear that the glory of God is found in Jesus Christ. He is the radiance of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3), the revelation of glory (John 1:14), and the One who will return in glory (Luke 21:27). A high view of the glory of God is founded in your adoration of Christ. To go even further, it is impossible to have a high view of the glory of God without a burning affection for Jesus. Why else would Paul say with resounding boldness in Philippians 1:21, “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain!”? Because he knew the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord (Philippians 3:8).

The faithful Bishop of Liverpool, J.C. Ryle, so beautifully pronounced what Paul did in saying “Christ is all” (Colossians 3:1) in his book, Holiness. He writes, “Christ is the mainspring both of doctrinal and practical Christianity. A right knowledge of Christ is essential to a right knowledge of sanctification as well as justification. He who follows after holiness will make no progress unless he gives to Christ His rightful place…let us understand that Christ is all.[2]

If you want to experience the fullness of the Christian faith, Christ is the key. Devote yourself to being hidden in the Rock of Ages; worshiping humbly as His feet.

There, as you bow low in His shadow, you will find the highest view of the glory of God.

______________________________________________

[1] Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Edward Hickman (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 1:lxv-lxxiii, quoted in Joel R. Beeke, Living for God’s Glory (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2008), 147.

[2]J.C. Ryle, Holiness – Abridged, (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2010), 247-248.

A Christmas Devotional: O Humble Night

Every year Christmas comes like a tidal wave. The malls explode with busy shoppers, streets line with glistening lights, and the success of our Christmas can seem to hinge on “how good we did” under the tree. The schedule fills with family, friends, productions, parties and more. Yet amid our Christmas high, its true meaning can help bring us to a more fitting–and humbling–low.

On the eve of Christ’s birth, all of humanity was in the poorest of forms. As wandering souls, we were trapped in great sin, hopeless, and in need of a great Savior. But there, in the tiny town of Bethlehem, the world changed forever. From hopeless in the wreckage of our own depravity, to hopeful because of His holiness. A perfect baby came into the world and in Him the world found redemption.

He broke the bondage of sin we could never break. He conquered the enemy we could never defeat. He gave us a gift we could never deserve. O, what a humbling reality!

Enjoy Christmas, give gifts, and by all means rejoice with those you love. But in the midst of it all, let the weight of Christ’s birth press this humbling reminder upon your heart:

No gift can compare to the what we’ve been given in Him.

Reading: Matthew 1:18-2:23; Luke 2:1-20

Preaching Sound Doctrine Matters

Some years ago we did things a little differently at our church than we do now. We had a band that was filled with hired guns and we paid them to play the lights out every Sunday. To illustrate: our guitarist would tour the world with a famous boy-band, then roll in on Sundays to put on a show for our church – true story.

As far as the sermons would go, they were a mixture of some Bible, exciting and emotionally driven stories, and an ending that was designed to move everyone into an emotional response to the message. We were the typically modern, attractional, evangelical church. And make no mistake about it, lots people were dawning our doors. But they were not coming for doctrine – they came for the personalities, the music and the emotion. It was working!

This is why it seemed like our teaching-pastor had lost his mind when he suddenly got up one Sunday having “fired” all the hired musicians and telling the congregation, “If someone is musically gifted and won’t play for free, this church will no longer be a good fit.” Going even further he started preaching verse-by-verse through books of the Bible to grow our church in doctrine, and songs changed from the latest Jesus Culture or Hillsong hits to songs rich in theological truths. Emotionally driven services were replaced by the clear preaching of God’s word. Suddenly there were calls for biblical action out of love and obedience for Christ!

Then, there was an exodus. We went from being a brand-new shiny object – a fast-growing church plant holding multiple services and cruising through the 300-attendance mark – to suddenly having empty seats everywhere. Eventually we grew past where we once were, but this time, it would not be merely numerical, it was spiritual.

Sound doctrine (paired with prayer and patience) did the heavy lifting.

We Need Sound Doctrine

From big name preachers suggesting we “unhitch” ourselves from the Old Testament, to sermon series on mere behavior modifications from self-help books, to entire services being absent of the Bible but full of entertainment, the church today is in dire need of a strong dose of good ole’ fashion sound doctrine.

In short, doctrine matters.

Nothing else will satisfy the deepest needs of the human heart. Nothing else will quench the spiritual thirst of believers who have been transformed by the Gospel, and nothing is more true to the mandate of Christ’s commission in Matthew 28:16-20. Jesus didn’t suggest that someof what He taught be passed along in whatever modernized way His disciples saw fit. Nor did He give the nod to whatever methods get people in the door. He said that “making disciples” included “teaching them to observe all (emphasis added)” that He commanded (Matt. 28:20).

When the Apostle Paul was providing ministry instructions to his young protégé in the faith – Timothy – he hammered home imperative after imperative concerning the importance of sound doctrine! From that model alone there is no question of what a good minister of the Gospel is to do. We must be nourished on – and nourishing others on –  words of faith and sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6).

What Exactly Constitutes “Sound Doctrine”?

Sound doctrine in the Christian faith is accurate Bible teaching. “Doctrine” can be defined as the central beliefs that are held by a group of people and “sound” implies that something is reliable. Therefore, when churches spend more time entertaining people and giving shallow sermons, they are not fulfilling what a church is supposed to do and be. We must be preaching and teaching the central beliefs of the Christian faith based on what the Bible teaches – regardless of how the world around us is changing. Like a reliable friend who will tell you what you need to hear vs. what you want to hear, a reliable church (and specifically the preachers) should be giving you the truth and nothing but the truth.

Why Preaching Sound Doctrine Matters

Much is at stake, but great things are in store if a church stops playing games and bolts the Bible to the pulpit and the pulpit to the floor boards. Sure, some people may not like it, but God’s word promises that the blessings will outweigh the backlash.

Let’s look at five reasons that preaching sound doctrine matters:

  1. It is Required of Faithful Pastor-Elders

Do you know a pastor-elder who doesn’t want to be faithful in their duty for Christ? Most of them do. Plainly, the pastor-elders who are called to be the servant-leaders of the church are failing their duty if sound doctrine is not the central focus of the teaching and preaching ministry. Churchstaffing.com does not determine a pastor’s job description, nor does any other agency. God has, and continues to expect His mouth-pieces to fulfill His purposes laid out in Scripture. Men of God must be faithful. The New Testament lays out the role of those who oversee the church in no uncertain terms (Acts 20:17-38; 1 Tim. 4:6, 11-13, 16; 2 Tim. 3:10, 14-17; 2 Tim. 4:1-5). God commands that His people be served spiritual food loaded with sound doctrine. A pastor-elder can be gifted in many ways, but he is only faithful if in all that he does he preaches sound doctrine.

  1. It Saves the Lost

Church growth from disgruntled “transfers” are a dime-a-dozen…especially in America where we treat our churches like restaurants and the customer is always right. But the real deal when it comes to preaching sound doctrine is genuine conversions that happen when the lost come to faith by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17). Of course, people transferring from a doctrinally dangerous church to one that preaches sound doctrine is wonderful, but it can be argued that few things are sweeter than seeing new believers come face to face with the awe-inspiring power of the living Word through faithful preaching! From old sinful ways to new creation in Christ, sound doctrine washes over the heart and mind of lost sheep, regenerates their soul, and preserves their faith (1 Tim. 4:16).

  1. It Empowers the Saved

Sound doctrine catapults the people of God into spiritual growth because they are building their lives on the bedrock foundation of God’s Word rightly taught and rightly applied. They are mobilized and equipped to live mature in their faith and protected from false teaching (Eph. 4:11-14). Sound doctrine empowers Christians to live high-impact lives because they are living out right relationships with God, fellow believers, and the world. A right relationship with God means a proper view of the Gospel and His attributes like holiness and omnipotence. A right relationship with fellow believers means serving one another (Gal. 5:13), loving one another (Rom. 13:8), forgiving one another (Eph. 4:32), exhorting one another (Heb. 3:13), and stirring one another up towards good works (Heb. 10:24)! A right relationship with people in the world means evangelizing them (Rom. 1:16), being a model in your Christian witness (Col. 4:5), and never compromising the truth (1 Cor. 16:13). It’s incredibly amazing what can happen when Christians are taught sound doctrine and live their lives for the glory of God.

  1. It Purifies the Church 

Preaching sound doctrine is important because it not only produces strong believers, it purifies the church of false ones. This may not seem like a very “nice” strategy, but consider for a moment what Jesus did to thin out the ranks of those who were superficially following Him merely for divine favors. Luke records Jesus delivering one of His toughest truths when the crowds were large (Luke 14:25-35). Jesus was dishing out free food, miracles, and wisdom, but the minute He pushed into deep doctrine and hard truths, it divided the real followers from the false ones. True converts love God’s Word, false converts will be repulsed by it. Eventually, as books of the Bible are unpacked and the glorious doctrines contained in Scripture are laid bare for all to see, a decision will inevitably be made by those who hear the truth. Their hearts will either turn towards it, or they’ll scoff at it and turn away. This is a vital part of a preacher’s duty in the ministry of the word. In doing so he is participating in Christ’s building of His church, which includes purging it of imposters.

  1. It Impacts the Future

Now before you imagine “preaching sound doctrine” as a sort-of boring academic forum in the church each week, remind yourself of what sound doctrine is one final time: reliable and accurate Biblical teaching. Preaching sound doctrine is may seem dull and simple, but it’s dynamic!  If the New Testament church was willing to bet their ministries on it, why shouldn’t we? The impact of this is exponential and powerful. When sound doctrine was taught in the early church, it exploded (Acts 2:40-41). If a generation of believers will preach sound doctrine and stand for the truth, they will be modeling faithfulness for those who will come next. In other words, they’ll be discipling the next generation of disciple-making disciples with the foundation they’ll need to glorify God. 

While many more important benefits can be added to this list, the fact remains, preaching sound doctrine matters – both now and in eternity.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally featured in Theology for Life Magazine (Volume 5, Issue 3, Fall 2018) as “The Importance of Preaching Sound Doctrine.” 

5 Reasons I Hate the Prosperity Gospel

Hate is a strong word. Using it should always be done in prudent fashion. People today hate a lot of things, but we must ensure we’re hating the right things. Hate is simply defined as “intense or passionate dislike” and can be a helpful learning tool for others who may be wondering why you feel so strongly about __________ (insert issue here).

In several simple paragraphs, I want to share with you why I hate the prosperity gospel. Let the reader understand, I don’t necessarily hate the people preaching it or family members who propagate it, nor do I believe that malicious or violent behavior towards a prosperity preacher is becoming of Christians. Such a thing is detestable. Still, there is an anger that God considers to be righteous (Ephesians 4:26) and we have a duty as Christians to push away apathy and embrace action when it comes to anything that tears down our God and His truth. Hatred, albeit taboo to say so, is not always a bad thing. Anger towards that which is “anti-Christ” is acceptable in God’s sight but it should always be accompanied by humble prayer and biblical explanation lest we become the dragon we’re trying to slay.

With a level-headed understanding of the kind of “hatred” in focus, here are 5 reasons why I absolutely hate the prosperity gospel:

I. It’s not good news

I’ve heard friends say, “There’s really no such thing as the prosperity gospel because there is only one gospel.” I completely agree, though I still prefer to use the terminology because people understand it so easily. “Gospel” literally means good news, and the prosperity gospel is not that at all. While prosperity preachers sell what appears to be good fortune, it’s actually damning heresy that paves the road to hell. Too strong? Not when you compare the true gospel to the lunacy that prosperity preachers promise. I love seeing lost people saved by the Gospel so much that I hate anything that gets in the way of them hearing transformational truth (Galatians 1:6-12; Romans 1:16).

II. It blasphemes Scripture

If you love God’s word, the Bible, would you ever want to lie to people about what it really says? One of the most hateful and abusive things happening in the church-world today is when a person opens the Bible and uses it as a tool for deception. This is blasphemy. This is what prosperity preachers do. The Bible declares some incredible things about itself. 2 Timothy 3:16 specifically reminds us that Scripture is “God breathed.” How dare someone take what comes directly from the Holy One and use it for sordid gain?

III. It insults Christ

I hate the way the prosperity gospel insults my Lord. He’s worthy of honor, glory, and praise. One day, every knee will bow before Him and declare Him King (Romans 14:11). But for now, there are those who smear His heavenly name to build their earthly empire. They ascribe promises to men that Jesus never made. Jesus did not come to inaugurate a get-rich-quick scheme for humanity, He came to fulfill a redemptive plan. What an insult to make Jesus into a lottery ticket! Jesus didn’t die on the cross to provide a steady stream of Bentley’s, Big Diamonds, and Botox. He died on the cross to provide our atonement. We deserved wrath for sin but He took our place. We deserved an eternity in hell but He ensured heaven would be home for those who put their faith in Him.

IV. It exploits the poor

Slowly read 1 John 3:17-18 for a moment: “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” Now, imagine a prosperity preacher flying into a poor country on a private jet, staying in luxurious hotels far away from the slums, and then packing a soccer stadium with 300,000 desperate people in order to exploit them for money and good TV marketing. Then, imagine the prosperity preacher airing their perfectly edited program on TBN (or other platform) and telling their American (and global) audience to give money to help the poor people they’re reaching who need the gospel. Lastly, imagine the money pouring in and the ministry CFO ensuring that millions of dollars goes to the “anointed” leader to fuel his lavish lifestyle. Wash, rinse, repeat. I’ve been there and done that. It’s fun on the inside but scary once you think about eternal ramifications. God loves the poor. Exploit them and you’re going to be dealing with Him one day.

V. It has become mainstream

Have you ever been tossed by a wave in the ocean? I remember the feeling of total helplessness several years ago during a morning surf in California. Forecasts predicted ten foot swells so a couple friends and I packed up our egos and went out to surf. Fast forward to me gasping for air and getting crushed by wave after wave as the sets rolled in with little relief. I had no business being in the water that day. Nothing is more disheartening than being crushed by the momentum of something you cannot control. Similarly, I hate the prosperity gospel because it has produced a massive wave of destruction across the globe. Worst of all, that wave of destruction has become mainstream. People want it (2 Timothy 4:3-4). From America, to Africa, to South America and beyond, the prosperity gospel is en vogue.

If you hate the prosperity gospel as much as I do, the most loving thing you can do is speak the truth to those who need to hear it the most.

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Documentary Resource: 

“American Gospel: Christ Alone” has released and quickly become one of the most impactful documentaries on the prosperity gospel to date. Brandon Kimber directed and produced this film to help people understand the difference between the gospel of the Bible and counterfeits being sold today. Numerous testimonies are already pouring in from people who held “watch parties” as a tool for outreach to friends and family being deceived. Watch it on Vimeo on Demand today. Here’s the trailer.

 

Coming in 2019: 

In order to combat some of the evil spreading through prosperity theology today, I chose to write a book that deals with it head on. It will include a thorough look at life behind the scenes, and plenty of biblical teaching to help people grow in truth. The book is titled, God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel and is being published by Zondervan. You can pre-order it on Christianbook.com (currently discounted at the time of this article) or Amazon right now. Other outlets will carry it in the coming months.